While the new all-wheel park in Queensborough has fast become a rolling success with local skateboarders, BMXers, mountain bikers and inline skaters, not everyone is a fan.
Rev. David P. Hughes of the neighbouring Holy Spirit Church certainly isn’t. He’s upset that the view from his home is now blocked by a large mound of earth constructed to help bikers catch air.
“I’m not opposed to it on principle, I just don’t understand that since they had 12,000 square feet to build it, they had to build a big hill right in front of my house,” said Hughes. “Anybody who walks into my house says, ‘What in God’s name have they done?’ I simply don’t want to see people looking into my window every time I look out. I have a five-and-a-half-foot hedge fence, and it’s four feet higher than that.”
He says the artificial mound, the highest point in the park, was built only a few feet from his Lawrence Street home’s property line.
“I just cannot understand a designer designing something that big in front of someone’s house. … Having witnessed various groups of people standing on top of this mound of earth looking at my house and just laughing, I believe that this has been done deliberately, to provoke. Is this anti-Catholic? I can’t prove that, of course, but you can’t help but wonder.”
Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks, culture and recreation, said the location of the mound was chosen to avoid cutting down trees or being too near utility poles.
“The area in question is part of the dirt track portion for bikers,” Gibson explained. “Because the whole facility was built from the ground up – we couldn’t dig down to build it – there’s a certain amount of distance necessary in order for riders to get the speed they need to get air on their bikes, and this particular area was chosen because it was at a gap in a row of trees and utility poles.”
Gibson said that every effort was made to get feedback and input from local residents well before construction began on the park, part of a larger $5-million redevelopment project for Queensborough’s parks being led by Richard Findlay Landscape Architect Ltd.
“(Hughes) only became aware of what we were doing when we hand-delivered letters to residents who had properties that bordered around the park itself, which was a standard courtesy letter to let residents know construction of the all-wheel park would be starting up in the next few days and that we’ll be making every effort to comply with noise bylaws,” said Gibson. “Unfortunately, that was the first that he had heard of the project itself despite the fact that we’ve hosted at least two community open house workshops at the community centre itself and a number of other steps along the way. … We have done the best we can, and we really feel that, at the end of the day, this is something that will have a truly positive impact on the community.”
The city has since planted trees between the church and the park as a buffer, although it will take several years for them to fully mature.
Ironically, Hughes said that one of the park’s builders, New Line Skateparks president Kyle Dion, is both a friend of the family and the nephew of a fellow priest. “I saw him at his grandmother’s birthday party and said to him: ‘You must have thought it’s a good thing I’m a Catholic priest, I’ll probably forgive you.’ You have to laugh about it, but at the same time, it is very frustrating.”
Dion recounted the same humorous exchange when contacted by The Record, although he thinks the pastor is making a proverbial mountain out a molehill.
“It’s unfortunate, for sure, but we did everything that we could,” said Dion. “There was a public process and plenty of opportunity over the years to provide input. Unfortunately, he decided to voice a complaint once it was a done deal.”
For now, Hughes said he doesn’t intend to follow the idiom that if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them.
“I’ve asked my congregation to please not buy me a skateboard or BMX for Christmas,” he said.
(This story was first published Jan. 29, 2011. © Copyright (c) New West Record.)